Hola de México!


A semi-formal dining event at George Brown College to execute a seven-course dinner, showcasing El Catrin’s Mexican fare executed by Executive Chef, Olivier Le Calvez, Chef de Partie Leonardo Olvera and myself, Sous Chef Donovan Gomes, in collaboration with George Brown College students.

The opportunity to provide hands on experience and educate students to the real-life culinary world. To exhibit through them the motions of planning, preparation and execution, while experiencing the intensity of focus, discipline, efficiency, respect and reward for both the food and themselves.

The day started at six a.m., I was going over the notes from the previous few days, making sure I gathered and prepped all that I needed. Chef Olivier joined me around nine a.m., singing something in Spanish, his usual jolly self, walks past me and hands over an Americano & Chocolate croissant. Much needed boost in the morning. We came together and went over the day ahead once again, just to make sure, exchanged a high five and started to load the van.

The El Catrin Chef’s pulled up by noon to the double doors on Frederick St. that led into the beautiful restaurant “The Chefs House” at George Brown College. They were about to commence lunch service. We quietly creeped down the side stairs to the basement like silhouettes where we about to prep for the next three hours or so, but first the calling for yet another fresh cup of brew.

The prep area downstairs was well maintained and intimate, where everything was at arms reach. The three of us worked through the menu with precision, with no stone unturned. Having organized lists leaves almost no room for error. We were focused and determined to give the students and our guests an amazing Mexican culinary experience, showcasing all the vibrant flavours of which some took days to prepare.

During our time spent preparing for dinner service, we were greeted by an array of chefs, managers & faculty from George Brown College. Needless to say, the were unbelievably kind and thoughtful with their presence and hospitality. Chef Rusin, a professor at the college, came by and informed us that we would be accommodating five to six students that would be our “hands” for the next couple of hours.

This was the best part of my experience, to be able to see the innocence yet eagerness of these students embracing the idea of working with ingredients of a cuisine which may be foreign to them. Before you know it, the cutting boards were down, sharp knives were out and off they went with specific tasks assigned to them, overseen by us chefs.

screenshotTo give them a sense of what real world kitchens would expect of them, we treated them just like any of our cooks with respect & professionalism, showing them where they were going wrong and how to improve, setting timelines on assigned tasks to feel the sense of discipline and urgency. This along with getting to bond with them through short conversations about their background and future culinary interests. Time flies when your having fun doing what you love and with a few blinks of an eye, it was time to take our prepared foods upstairs and get ready for dinner service.

“Chef please take your food up the elevator!!” exclaimed Chef Rusin. Elevator I thought?? This was quite the privilege, these students have it made. State of the art facility, from combi-ovens and smokers to blenders, mixers, dehydrators and much more. It is great to know that these future Chefs are trained to use modern, state of the art equipment to create beautiful food with efficiency and accuracy.

The dining room upstairs was well lit, tables and chairs aligned, serviettes and utensils all squared up, wine glasses absolutely transparent and glistening, all this with the smooth sound of Mexican Mariachi in air. The kitchen was handed to us immaculately clean and polished from lunch service. It was time to get down to business.

The students for the nights service were assigned specific stations as per their instructor and we were to work with them accordingly. Two to three per station, so I took a moment and divided the remaining final touches of prep and distributed them accordingly, with Chef Leonardo, to oversee. All was going as planned. It was now time to discuss plating options and final presentations with El Jefe, Chef Olivier.

With forty minutes left before the arrival of our guests, we decided to plate one of each dish to accomplish many things, giving the students, servers and managers alike an idea of how the ingredients come together on the plate, allowing them to visualize, smell and eventually taste but not before Chef Olivier has the opportunity to tell the story behind the food, the purpose of the event and last but not least the appreciation of the students and chefs joining forces to bring everything together and to respect the efforts put forth by all that came through to make this night happen.

The food was well received by all partaking in the service. The servers seemed confident with explaining the dishes after having tried it. All questions handled with grace by Chef Olivier. Guests are slowly trickling through the doors. Its Showtime.

These students showed nerves of excitement more than fear of not being able to perform. Looked like they may have done this a few times now, which was great for me. Everyone had their game face on, Chefs Olivier and Leonardo keeping eye contact with me at all times so that we are on the same page come what may. We split the students equally amongst us three and moved them around depending on where we could expose them to the food and service, the most.

We also had the company, brains and brawn of our very own Corporate Executive Chef, Tim Miles. His keen eye from a drone like – panoramic view allows room for no mistakes. Not to mention his attention to every little detail during service from plates to food to people involved, always questioning the next move, three steps ahead. Keeping quality control and being hands on with cutting, cooking, tasting and plating, this man does it all. Gratifying to say the least.

I made sure that all the students had their hands involved with the food throughout the nine courses, from canapes to dessert. The Chefs demonstrated one or two plates and let the students do the rest, with us guiding their every movement. Every student took charge of at least one element that went on a plate. Their faces so intense and eyes focused to the details from the example set for them.

There isn’t a single service in my entire culinary career, where there a curveball is thrown at you and because of those repeated past experiences, what came next was handled with ease. After years of practice, the ability to think on your feet with what you have in front of you becomes second nature.

Out of forty-nine guests of which originally none had any allergies or restrictions to a pre-fixed menu previously viewed, there happened to be three of them that night with particulars, two with shellfish allergies and one with a fish allergy. We whipped up delicious alternatives for them, a corn and ancho chili risotto, a couple of Red snapper ceviche’s and a Confit heirloom tomato and Charred tomatillo ceviche. All was received well and appreciated by those guests. This was also an eye opener for the students to see what can change during a planned service.

After the desserts were out, we all came together for a swift clean up whilst our Chef Olivier said a few words of gratitude to the guests and student for making this night a successful event, and plan for more to come. We all took pictures and exchanged contact information with the students, with hopes to run into each other again someday. It’s a small culinary world after all.

Back downstairs again, packing up all of what was left from the night. I was out the door to bring the company van, when I thought to myself I’m sure the chefs could use a nice cup of brew, so I stumbled next door and picked up three Americanos, it was now approaching nine-thirty p.m. We said our goodbyes once all packed up and headed back to the mothership.

Driving home I thought about the day and how productive, educational and memorable it was to share my experiences with students who will one day turn out to be amazing Chefs, as long as they keep at it. I would do this all over again to be able to give back from where I once started. It is now midnight. Zzzzzz.

by Chef Donovan Gomes.

CUMBRAE’S – from farm, to butcher shop, to table..


Chef Craig Madore,

Sous Chef @ Pure Spirits Oyster House

The day started off great as I volunteered to drive and don’t get the opportunity very often anymore. I was already giddy with excitement being able to chauffeur some of the cooks around for the day.


After meeting up at the car rental place and having a bit of a confusion there, we were on our way to pick up the crew. Once settling on a route we took to the road on our way to Hagersville Ontario to see some lamb and cattle.

The drive was pretty good other than one of our colleagues lagging behind a bit due to the fact he drives like an old man on Sunday’s. It’s really nice being out in the country. The rolling hills and trees. You don’t get to see many trees in the city, or grass for that matter. Everyone in the van was more content being out there looking over the landscape. The drive even took an unexpected turn when we had to stop for a crossing of what I think was either wild turkey or partridge. A neat little experience that had everyone in the vehicle pressing their faces against the windows remarking how “cool” that was.

We had to make a quick pit stop at a gas station because the rental agency clearly lied about how far we could get on half a tank. That, and the fact that the cooks have bladders the size of young children. After about an hour and a half we came across an unassuming little barn house on a county road in the middle of nowhere. The smell of manure and hay filling the air was welcoming and not overwhelming. We pulled in the driveway next to a giant green tractor that people immediately started taking pictures next to. City folk are funny sometimes – “Hey look at me next to this tractor which we rarely come across in cement jungle land”.


The farmer came to meet us and was what you’d expect from such. A large towering man, dirty overalls, hadn’t shaved in a while, but surprisingly soft spoken. untitled-224We did our introductions, took a few photos, and got warned by the Chefs to stay away from the electric fence.

Walking in to the sheep barn we were greeted by some baby lamb being fed by their mothers. untitled-39untitled-68We were then spoken to about how the sheep get impregnated and the selection process in which animals are kept and allowed to mature to sheep for wool or sent off as lamb to be produced. We also learned about the adopting process in which female sheep can only really care for about 3 lamb, so if they have more than 3 they need to “orphan” the lamb to a sheep who has less. We then got to go into the sheep pen where there were well over 100 animals. They were frightened at first but quickly came up to us for a bit of affection.

The wool is so soft and pillowy. No wonder everyone seems to like wool stuff. We learned about the type of hay they like to eat which is mixed with silage, the breeding process, and how they interact with one another. It was really interesting as the operator was incredibly knowledgeable about his animals.

Afterwards we took off to the cattle farm. This was more like the farms you read about in books. It had the big red barn of course, the hockey pond out front, and large grain silos lining the side of the property.


untitled-198We were given a quick tour of the equipment and the feed, then introduced to the Black Angus and Wagyu breeds. untitled-266There was also a cross breed which the name now escapes me. We were informed again on processes such as breeding, selection for meat, and feed. The cattle were surprisingly friendly as well, coming up to us in general curiosity.untitled-185

untitled-152untitled-245Shortly after the farm tours we were back on the road toward Dundas Ontario for a wonderful lunch at Quatrefoil restaurant. The town was small and quaint, and the restaurant was a little cottage style house with a really great look to it. The interior was very classy but welcoming, with a nice looking patio that would be a good spot to spend a sunny afternoon. The restaurant staff did an amazing job setting up a nice private room for us outside the kitchen.

Food was spot on at this place. The bread all made in house was unreal, with a sourdough, cheese twists, little popover style gougers, and a sweet bread which I think was some kind of molasses rye. Either way they were all delicious, with nice salty butter. For lunch we had sun choke soup, Cumbraes meatloaf with squash and Brussels sprouts, and a chocolate banana bombe. Nice spread and a well spent lunch hour which I’m sure everyone on the trip would agree with. We all left wanting to take a nap after that filling meal, which a few of the people not driving happened to do. Nice life!

The drive home was a bit of a mess. Our van happened to somehow go from half a tank to nothing in a matter of 5 minutes. This unfortunately made us have to get off the highway and find a gas station. Topping it all off it started to downpour on the way back into the city, slowing everyone down. We unfortunately didn’t make it to Cumbraes in time for the tour, but we got to see the shop which was beautiful. The selection of dry aged beef, pork, chicken, prepared foods, condiments, pies, etc. was mind blowing. I definitely didn’t expect them to have as much of a selection, but one can only assume that is why they’re one of the most popular butcher shops in Toronto.

Departing back to the Distillery everyone was in good spirits and a little bit more educated from the day’s activities. Smiles all around and happy cooks. Definitely a great way to spend a day when you live and breathe food. I would recommend a visit to these places to any cook I know.

field trip cumbraes-1

David Semotiuk, Line Cook @ El Catrin Destileria
 Hey Chef Tim,
 I just wanted to thank you again for the field trip to Cumbrae farms. It was an interesting place to go see, and a stark contrast to see the fourth generation farm being so old and being surrounded by so many windmills. That seemed to be how he chose to raise his animals, by combining the best of older techniques and modern ones. I was surprised they fermented the hay but from a storage and animal health point of view I think it is a really good solution. It was funny seeing him talk about portion control by weight, when feeding his cows. It is a good reminder that any waste you can cut is profit.
The main thing I took away from the trip though is the idea that as chef I think we have to pay for flavor not weight of beef. That can mean little things like not misting at the abattoir, breeding for a smaller eye or taking the time to dry age like they do. When you have the opportunity to work with someone as knowledgeable about animals you really can get a premium flavour as well as the product you want.
Lana Golub, Cluny Bistro
Chef Reid Walton
Sous Chef @ Pure Spirits Oyster House

First let me say thank you again for the opportunity to attend the last DRC field trip. In my opinion its outings like this that set us apart from other restaurant groups in the city.

Cumbrae Farms was amazing,  but smaller than I imagined. I have shopped with Cumbrae’s for years and to get the opportunity to speak directly to the person responsible for raising the meat I have been purchasing was a unique and rare opportunity most Chefs do not get. I found it very interesting to physically see the difference in build and temperament between the breed of cattle on the farm.
Highlight of the trip for me was our stop for lunch at Quatrefoil! Absolutely stunning room with great food in small town Ontario. The Menu far exceeded expectations and the company was pretty good as well! Its really great to get the opportunity to share a meal sitting down with my co workers!

These type of trips are important and I would like the opportunity to be more involved in the planning process moving forward. Im currently looking into the possibility of Sylvania Farms having a group of us out to see their facility. They are raising Mangalitsa Pigs as well as goats, cows, and chickens in the Niagara region. I believe they are running a small scale charcuterie operation as well.

Stella Jang, Snr. Line Cook @ Pure Spirits Oyster House

▪ Location : Cumbrae’s Lamb/sheep Farm and Black Angus and Wagyu Beef Farm -> Lunch at Quatrefoil restaurant (Local farmers restaurant) -> Cumbrae’s Butcher shop in city

I had never been at farm like here before, it was the first time to be there. It is incredible how they raise their lamb/sheep and beef, and they grow their feeds as well. The farms are not huge operation, but it is 4th generation’s farm and well-maintained farm and honest. The animals are going to the local butcher shop. That means we can buy the meat which are we can know where they from and how they raised. This idea is remarkable.
It was such a great time ever and the experience gives me an idea that in some points, it is really exciting to know about your food; where they from, how they grow, who done by,,, so on.

Thank you chef for giving me the opportunity and this was so impressive and awesome!!